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Context of '10:11 a.m. September 11, 2001: After Communications Problems, NEADS Tells Langley Pilots They Cannot Shoot Down Hijacked Planes'

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NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) declares “AFIO” (Authorization for Interceptor Operations) for Washington airspace, giving the military authority over the FAA for that airspace, and directs the fighter jets launched from Langley Air Force Base (see (9:25 a.m.-9:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001) toward the White House. [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 33; Spencer, 2008, pp. 113, 150] Colin Scoggins, the military liaison at the FAA’s Boston Center, has just called to report an unidentified aircraft closing in on Washington, DC, which is currently six miles southeast of the White House (see 9:36 a.m. September 11, 2001).
Nasypany Declares AFIO - Major Kevin Nasypany, the NEADS mission crew commander, is unaware that the F-16s he scrambled from Langley Air Force Base are heading out to sea rather than going north toward the Baltimore area (see 9:34 a.m. September 11, 2001). He therefore orders Major James Fox, the leader of the NEADS weapons team, to direct the Langley jets toward the White House, telling him: “I got an aircraft six miles east of the White House! Get your fighters there as soon as possible!” Fox asks, “Do you want us to declare AFIO?” Nasypany replies, “Take [the Langley fighters] and run ‘em to the White House,” and adds, “I want AFIO right now!” [Spencer, 2008, pp. 150] Declaring AFIO gives the military emergency authority to enter FAA-controlled airspace without permission, and means that NORAD assumes responsibility for ensuring that its fighter jets see and avoid all aircraft in that airspace. NEADS has already declared AFIO for New York airspace (see (9:12 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Federal Aviation Administration, 2/19/2004, pp. 4-12-1 - 4-12-2; Spencer, 2008, pp. 113] Now it does the same for Washington airspace. Fox tells the members of his weapons team: “We’re going direct [to] DC with my guys. Tell Giant Killer that we’re going AFIO!” [Spencer, 2008, pp. 150] (“Giant Killer” is the call sign for the Fleet Area Control and Surveillance Facility in Virginia Beach, Virginia—the Navy air traffic control agency that handles all over-water military operations. [New York Times, 2/10/1997; Spencer, 2008, pp. 143] )
NEADS Unable to Contact Langley Jets - Master Sergeant Steve Citino, the NEADS weapons director, tries calling Langley pilot Major Dean Eckmann to inform him of the AFIO declaration, but receives no response. According to author Lynn Spencer, the Langley jets are not yet in NEADS’s radio range. Meanwhile, NEADS Staff Sergeant William Huckabone calls Giant Killer and notifies it: “Ma’am, we are going AFIO right now with Quit 2-5 [the Langley fighters]. They are going direct [to] Washington.” But the controller only offers modest reassurance that the Langley jets will be given the appropriate clearance to enter Washington airspace, responding, “We’re handing ‘em off to [the FAA’s Washington] Center right now.” Huckabone retorts: “Ma’am, we need that expedited right now! We need to contact them on 234.6.… Do you understand?”
NEADS Reaches Langley Jets - As soon as the Langley jets enter radio range, Citino makes contact with pilot Craig Borgstrom and instructs him, “Squawk quad-sevens and head 010!” This means the pilots should dial the code for AFIO—7777—into their planes’ transponders. Borgstrom radios fellow pilot Eckmann and passes on this instruction. According to Spencer: “The declaration of AFIO startles Eckmann. He has never, in all his years of flying, received such an order. He’s only heard about it and, to him, it means no less than the start of World War III.” [Spencer, 2008, pp. 150-151] At 9:37 a.m., when the Pentagon is hit, the Langley jets have flown nearly 60 miles out over the ocean and are 150 miles from Washington (see 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 27; Spencer, 2008, pp. 151]

Entity Tags: Northeast Air Defense Sector, Kevin Nasypany, James Fox, Craig Borgstrom, Dean Eckmann, Fleet Area Control and Surveillance Facility, William Huckabone, Steve Citino

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

NEADS personnel who are on duty the morning of 9/11.NEADS personnel who are on duty the morning of 9/11. [Source: Vanity Fair] (click image to enlarge)One of the pilots that took off from Langley Air Force Base (see (9:25 a.m.-9:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001) calls NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) to relay information he has received about an aircraft over the White House, and is promptly instructed to intercept this aircraft. [Vanity Fair, 8/1/2006]
Borgstrom Wants Instructions - The three F-16s that took off from Langley Air Force Base are now flying in the Baltimore-Washington area. They have just heard a warning over the radio that errant aircraft will be shot down, and received an instruction from the Secret Service to protect the White House (see (10:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). The FAA’s Washington Center also notified them of a suspicious aircraft flying at high speed toward the White House. In response, pilot Craig Borgstrom radios NEADS and asks weapons director Steve Citino for instructions on what to do. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 222-223] Borgstrom says: “Baltimore [the Washington Center] is saying something about an aircraft over the White House. Any words?” Citino replies: “Negative. Stand by,” and then relays Borgstrom’s message to Major James Fox, the leader of the NEADS weapons team. Fox then notifies Major Kevin Nasypany, the NEADS mission crew commander, of the aircraft over the White House.
Ordered to Intercept - Instinctively, Nasypany responds, “Intercept!” and he then elaborates, “Intercept and divert that aircraft away from there.” Citino passes this instruction to the Langley fighters, telling them their mission is to “intercept aircraft over White House. Use FAA for guidance.” Fox then adds: “Divert the aircraft away from the White House. Intercept and divert it.” Borgstrom confirms the order, saying, “Divert the aircraft.”
Unidentified Aircraft a False Alarm - As the F-16s head for the White House, the NEADS controllers are unable to find the building on their dated equipment, and also have trouble communicating with the Langley pilots. NEADS personnel speculate that the unidentified object is probably just a helicopter or smoke from the burning Pentagon. Minutes later, the suspect aircraft will be realized to probably be one of the Langley fighters, mistakenly reported by a Washington Center air traffic controller who was unaware of the military’s scrambles. Citino will comment: “That was cool. We intercepted our own guys.” [North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/11/2001; Vanity Fair, 8/1/2006]

Entity Tags: Northeast Air Defense Sector, Kevin Nasypany, Steve Citino, Craig Borgstrom, James Fox

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

A weapons director at NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) informs the fighter jets launched from Langley Air Force Base (see (9:25 a.m.-9:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001) that they do not have permission to shoot down aircraft over Washington, though he is delayed in giving this instruction due to communications problems. [North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/11/2001; 9/11 Commission, 6/17/2003; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 45; Vanity Fair, 8/1/2006; Spencer, 2008, pp. 227]
Citino Cannot Reach Borgstrom - Major Kevin Nasypany, the NEADS mission crew commander, has just told his staff that the Langley fighters have “negative clearance to shoot,” and the orders from higher headquarters are that the jets are to identify aircraft by their type and tail number, and nothing more (see 10:10 a.m. September 11, 2001). Now Master Sergeant Steve Citino, a NEADS weapons director, tries relaying these instructions to Captain Craig Borgstrom, one of the three Langley pilots. However, he cannot get through to him over the radio. According to author Lynn Spencer, this is because the “reception is weak over the Washington area, and NEADS loses the ability to communicate whenever [Borgstrom] flies below a certain altitude.” Citino complains to Major James Fox, the leader of the weapons team: “I can’t talk to ‘em. They’re too low.” [Vanity Fair, 8/1/2006; Spencer, 2008, pp. 227]
Citino Issues Instructions - Finally, about a minute after receiving the instructions from Nasypany, Citino reaches Borgstrom. He tells him, “Reiterating, mission is ID by type… divert if necessary.” Borgstrom acknowledges this instruction, telling Citino, “Quit 2-6 copies.” [North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/11/2001; 9/11 Commission, 6/17/2003] When two of the Langley pilots later discuss this day’s events at a news conference, they will say they “never received explicit orders to fire on incoming planes perceived to be hostile.” [New York Times, 11/15/2001]

Entity Tags: Steve Citino, James Fox, Craig Borgstrom

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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